Entries from May 2010 ↓

Green Fever in the Hai

Sooooooooooo it’s NBA Playoffs and Finals season and my boys are in it; which means, I get super dee duperly emotionally invested in these games to the point where it influences my daily mood. For instance, last week in Games 4 and 5 of Celtics vs. Orlando, I remained pretty annoyed and pissy throughout the week for games which I had thought were going to go the Green Team’s way.

Anyhoots, with a guy roommate who happens to be a basketball fanatic, Nate found out that we’re able to watch the games live in Shanghai time right in the comforts of our own apartment via sports channel, CCTV-5!  SUPER AWESOME news as I was able to catch 2 playoff games on tv. Kinda weird having to hear commentators in Mandarin, but after a bit, my ears innately train themselves to tune out the Mandarin and fine tune itself to hear the arena announcers. Here’s a couple shots from the end of the Eastern Conference Finals: (you’ll have to excuse the glare from our balcony)…..

. . don’t burn the day. .

Expo Taxi

Since around February 2010, they’ve been looming the ‘Hai streets, boasting its green/yellow/white shiny’ness and I FINALLY got to ride in one of these “expo taxis” a few weeks back.

First, let’s rewind back to August 11, 2008 when I had posted an entry entitled “Color Coded Cabs 101.” Back when I had just arrived, I was given a quick run down on which colored taxi vehicle would be least likely to rip me off…and just as I had dutifully noted, I wanted to share with the readers of web, with hopes of helping  other ‘Hai travelers too.

Now, two years later, with the ooh la la World Expo (personally, I’m getting sick and tired of hearing about the Expo here) underway, the ‘Hai has unveiled the “Expo Taxi.”  This ride is SMOOOOOOOOOOOTH, with built-in navigators and interiors smelling of “brand spankin new car leather.”

Though this does not mean that the reds, blues, whites, yellows, greens and teals are not around… we’ve just got more and “improved” taxis to take on the demand of the expected 70 million visitors from now thru end of October.

For more info on how the ‘Hai is “training” local taxi drivers to provide “better customer service” to passengers, watch the clip here. Though….. I still think this city has a bit wayyyys to go with its overall customer service overhaul…

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Moganshan, China

Just 3 hours on the road outside of Shanghai is an awesomely calming, bamboo forest retreat area of Moganshan. (“shan” means “mountain”)

Fun Factoid! = Famed film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was filmed in Moganshan.

Over the last couple years, this has become quite the hot spot for mini weekend getaways from the hustle and bustle of the ‘Hai life. While there are a good handful of lodging spots spaced out in the Moganshan area, we opted for a brand new spot called, Prodigy Outdoor, and came out BEYOND satisfied with our experience with them.  From super dee duperly courteous, helpful and smiling staff,… to uber clean and comfortable facilities,… to a great variety of fresh and delicious home-made dishes at every meal,… to beautiful, lush bamboo greenery all around us, to… refreshing calmness all around us, Prodigy gets a thumbs up!!!

We received roundtrip transfer Shanghai-Moganshan (3 hour each way) + lodging + meals… all for a total of roughly $100usd from Friday night to Sunday late afternoon. Plus, we (myself, Wan Hing and Brittany) lucked out in that a 20-person traveling group had a last minute cancel, which allowed for us to have our own room – that was designed to fit 10 people total…. That was an uber score for us!!

Check some flicks:

Outside our balcony…


Various patches of bamboo were marked off by family names/owners:

Our guide dog, “Happy”…

I’m practicing my fighting moves with bamboo stick, just in case some crouching tigers and/or hidden dragons attack..

All of our meals looked a lil’ something like this!

Then, back to the wilderness where we ran into a herd of goats!!

But I fought them off with my guns…. LOL!

And here’s the full reel for your enjoyment! :-)

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Bay of Islands, New Zealand

First is Paihia, Bay of Islands in North Island of NZ:

The highlight was most definitely a life-long dream of swimming with dolphins out in their natural habitat, courtesy of Awesome NZ! (with a name like that, I couldn’t resist!)

and off we were!!

..with our skipper on the look-out for our finned friends!

..spotted a few super close to our boat!!

..and the money shot!!

…done and done!! … a happy dolphin swimmer I am!!

… then off to a stunning outlook via hiking up a lil’ hill filled with sheep poo!

…and it was worth it!!

…and on our way back … I saw a lovely rainbow!!

Look at how tiny our boat was in comparison to a cruiseliner…

Just a short and scenic 20min walk from Paihia is Waitangi – best known for being the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840 between the Maori and British crown. The introduction of the Treaty effectively revoked the Declaration of Independence; making New Zealand a British colony, and the Treaty is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Waitangi Day is the annual celebration of the signing, and is New Zealand’s national holiday.

a present-day Maori family’s home….. check the pride!

A 15minute ferry ride from Paihia is charming, Russell:

… the arrival….

Even the police station looked like a nice place to be found in!!..

I immediately trekked up to an outlook…. this was quite a workout with its steep hills!!!

and again, it was worth it!!

…taking it all in… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

… then the downward trail…and over to the other side of the island for some beautiful chillax time at Long Beach…. (again, VERY WORTH IT!!)

..and the full reel, enjoy! :-)

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Auckland, New Zealand

Just a big ol’ city… really….

Though, with a nice look-out at Mission Bay…

and a “cool” (literally) ice bar, called Minus 5 Ice Lounge:

And the full reel, enjoy! :-)

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Rotorua, New Zealand

NZ is not just about naturally beautimous landscapes, but culture too!

We got a lil’ bit of it all up in Rotorua in the North Island: Geysers, Mudpools and an evening with the Maori people– who kept us entertained by teaching us traditional games, performing song and dance …and feeding us an awesome all-you-can-eat hangi dinner meal!

Daytime = Chill time to enjoy the park and natural surrounding beauties.

Evening = Lundy got re-acquainted with his seemingly long-lost ancestry, aka.. he REALLY had a natural connection with the Maori way of life! :-)

Opening ceremony: welcoming the chiefs aka 1 male representative from each tour bus (3 in total).

We were welcomed into the village, where L wasted no  time to volunteer himself to partake in a traditional Maori game…

L (that’s his hand in top left corner) learned a Maori chant: “Hoo! Hoo! Ha! HA!!”

I couldn’t help myself, but to let loose w the Maori warrior…

and did ya’ll know that LENNY KRAVITZ is a Maori????!!!…

The show was super entertaining with traditional story telling, song, dance… Here’s the chief of the tribe as host..(who I thought looked like a turkey)…

Next, feast time and L couldn’t take his eyes off the buffet table..

….and he had good reason to! Look at the spread! It felt like Thanksgiving all over again!

Traditional Hangi meals are cooked on firewood…

And the full reel, enjoy! :-)

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Franz Josef Glaciers, New Zealand

(Yeah, I know.. I’m STILL not done with my NZ posts… )

We eventually made our way up to the west coast of the South Island for some glacier adventure. My partner-in-crime last year, Lisa had visited NZ and boasted of some amazing shots of her glacier hike experience in NZ….so of course, I had to check it out for myself!  Though, Lundy and I weren’t blessed with as nice and sunny weather as Lisa’s in her pics, we made the most of our day there. In fact, upon nearing Glacier Country, it started drizzling quite a bit. L & I, being both extremely tired from our previous adventures and drives, found ourselves both secretly hoping that the hike would be cancelled. Me, being me, opted to call the booking office with 15 minutes to spare to a hike call time of 3pm on Tuesday, February 9th 2010.. to check to see if the hike would be cancelled. But, I was almost laughingly corrected by the woman on the other side of the line, “Honey, it rains 300 days of the year in this part of the island, so the hike is still on.” I hung up the phone, relayed the message to L, and after sulking for a half a second, we rallied up our energy for a pretty nifty experience!

After being given jackets, overpants, socks, boots and spikes, we headed out to battle Mother Nature’s rain spittings and magnificent glaciers!

If ya look closely towards the top of the glacier on the right, you’ll see a trail of folks hiking… we would be following suit shortly there after…

Don’t I look like your local meteorologist, fresh on the icy scene??!

Ice Hammock anyone?? Lundy said, “Yes!”

Lundy and his urge to mess with the emergency aid barrel…

I couldn’t resist an ice angel….

On our way down…. some perrty perrty waterfalls…

We sooooo rewarded ourselves with an awesomely hearty home-cooked meal of garlic toast, pesto fettucine, grilled chorizo and lamb chops! Mmmmmmm….

I was soooooo hungry….and ya’ll know, I ain’t got NO shame in my eating game! LOL! :-)

And now of course, the full reel, enjoy!

. . don’t burn the day. .

Flicks >> Seoul Life

Just got back from a rather quick 5-day trip out to Seoul, South Korea. With not toooo much high expectation for this city… I mean, other than, “it can be a lil’ hazy, but it’ll be cleaner than Shanghai.. Korean BBQ… the drinking… soju” etc… it’s all the typical city highlights of nightlife and skyscraper/tower observatories; Which, by now, especially having lived in TWO of the largest, major cities in the world:  the mighty NYC and Shanghai….. cities, for the most part, unimpress me (yup, this “city girl” said it!). Though, what drew me for in for Seoul were: the 38th Parallel and an opportunity to partake in a Buddhist Temple Stay (as recommended by my friend here in the ‘Hai who had visited Seoul a few months back.)

But before I get into that, for one thing, I had been warned by friends etc of it’s notorious, raging”drinking culture,” but I can honestly say it was absolutely disgusting to see it firsthand. I mean it’s one thing as the locals carry on as it is a “cultural” thing… as do Japanese get pretty wild when alcohol is present, but then to see expats over-indulge in alcohol consumption is just plain ol’ sick to stomach. Not to say this is the truth for all expats, but a good majority for sure… as since the famed potent soju is sooooo cheap!

Next, tt has always fascinated me to find rhymes and reasons for why expats seek and find new lands as their new exotic land-homes. Some come for work; others come for play; most come for a whole new experience that may encompass both work and play. Here in Shanghai, I’ve met a great deal of folks from Europe, North America, Down Under, South East Asia etc… in all sorts of varying industires, but what I had learned/been told of the expat scene in Seoul, was that the majority hailed from North America: Canada & U.S. Hmph. First thought: not much variation. Second thought: thankful for living in a rising “international” city as Shanghai.

Some city sights, sounds and tastes:

Super cool guide Pil’s from the back with his Univ. of Michigan hat…. (thanks for the connect sharebear!!)

Pils’ buddy, Dennis and I, cheers on a fries and ketchup covered corndog in the name of Sharebear! This one was for you! :o ) (ps. this was my first time having a corndog in my life.. it was eh aight.)

Now enough about the city-analysis, what I really came for were the cultural/historics.

First stop, 38th Parallel.

After a bit of research, I found that the “DMZ,” standing for “De-Militarized Zone,” has all sorts of options in terms of tours, enough to make anyone dizzy!  There’s the Dora Observatory Deck (stand on top of a deck and see N. Korea from afar) and 3rd  Infiltration Tunnel (discovered in ’78 of the North digging a (not so) secret passage to the South) … then there’s  JSA (Joint Security Area; a highly secured area, heavily guarded by soldiers where important global meetings take place) and  Panmunjeom (small village that straddles the line separating N and S, where tourists are always escorted by military representatives). So of course, I signed myself up for the “real deal, get me IN the area that is most INTENSE of them all” tour…… the latter two: JSA & Panmunjeom.

As we were pulling up to the line that divides the N. and S., I flashbacked to all the varying militiary museums, memorials and sights I had visited in the past two years: Tiannamen Square, Nanjing War Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam War Museum etc >> all of which have left a profound historica-whoa effect upon me. Now, to inch upon an area that is a MODERN DAY war zone, left me feeling the most uptight-intense-on the border of danger- feeling I had ever felt. (Yes, I wasn’t even this whoa’ed when I decided to jump out of a plane in New Zealand.)  But anyhoots, driving up towards our final destination, we were met by military outposts along the highway with the N. Side within our distant point of view:

We first arrived in Imjingak – an area to comfort the 10million S. Korean people separated from their families in the North. It is here where the “Wishing Wall” is placed for S. Koreans to bid prayers and well wishes for their loved ones in the North. Personally, I felt an extreme cloud of sadness for those families split; civil wars are so unfortunate.

The Freedom Bridge:  The only bridge crossing the Imjin River, and also the only one bridge connected between S. and N. Korea.; approximately 13,000 war captives crossed this bridge cried celebratory hurrahs for freedom. As since the old one was destroyed, a new, commemorative “Freedom Bridge” was bult just parallel to the old… with one of the last, old trains preserved for viewing:

Here you can see the new bridge on the left and original, destroyed bridge on the right:

What I found most interesting was that alongside all of these historic and modern day artifacts as detailed above, there also laid an amusement for children; reason being: as whole families pay their respects to their loved ones at the Wishing Wall etc, the kids are dropped off to play as since they would get bored/not fully understand the civil divide.

Next up comes the nitty gritty as we enter the JSA: Camp Bonifas.

Before our tour bus could enter these secured grounds, a S. Korean soldier came aboard our bus, thoroughly checked our passports and to see that we had followed the very strict dresscode of simpicity: sneakers, no torn jeans/pants, plain tshirts/jackets etc.  This soldier spoke at least 3 languages fluently: Korean, Mandarin and English.

Next, we were led to Ballinger Hall, where we were given a slideshow presentation of war facts, etc.

We were each asked to sign an agreement form to follow all rules and regulations of the tour, as well as were given a badge to wear for security reasons:

We passed by the “World’s Dangerous Golf Course,” where it is said that S. Korean soldiers would tee-off into the N. lands..

Alas, we are dropped off at the Conference Room area, where we were instructed to form two straight lines, walking with our arms down and to be sure NOT to point and raise arms to gesture, as since this may lead the N. Korean soldiers who are observing us from afar “on enemy lines,” to believe one of us may be waving a gun, be armed etc. HOW FREAKIN’ INTENSE, DANGEROUS AND SOMEHOW “COOL” IS THAT???!! (Cool, in the most absurd way of course.)  So we entered into THE conference room where nations’ leaders gather for discussions.

This is the shot of us entering. You’ll see a soldier on the left and a soldier ahead; both are on the S. team for our protection. It is said that the N. side also has their fair share of “tours” as well, and when it is their turn, the S. soldiers exit and the N. soldiers take their place.

As we walk inwards, closer to the main conference table guarded by the soldier on the left, we were told to take note of the 3-table mics laid across the conference table, dividing the table at 38th parallel!!!!

So here I am posing with the solider on the left… (couldn’t get too too close though!)  But, take note of his fists! All soldiers have this stance, “to be ready to battle,” with the shades on to avoid “stare-down” battles with N. side.

I then crossed over the mic/conference table line, into N. Korea to snap a flick with our other guard:

On the real, we all almost forgot that these dudes were real!… they stood sooo still, as if we were in Maddame Tussaud’s Wax Museum!

And now we’re face to face with the North. A bit hard to see in the flick, but there’s a N. Korean soldier on the top of the steps, on the left watching us with binoculars. You’ll also notice that the S. side guards on facing the N. with only half of their bodies shown to the N. — in order to be a harder target to hit if there was an open fire…. I’ll say it again.. INtense!!!

As we drove off, we saw short, white poles, put up by the N. side to divide both sides:

Next, lead to the famed location of the “Axe Murder Incident of 1976″ where 2 U.N. Army lieutenants were axed to death for the trimming of a Poplar tree.

Nearby, is the original “Bridge of No Return,” where Korean prisoners of war were instructed to choose a side to live the rest of the lives in: North or South. After which, they were not allowed to ever cross the borders again.

As we left, we were all reminded of an important message:

After that intense day, I opted for a 2-day, 1-night stay at a Buddhist temple located approximately 2hour drive outside of Seoul city, in an area called Poncheon. I was met by a local who had at once spent some time in NYC, but now currently living in S. Korea, looking to make a change in his life, and studying to perhaps become a monk one day. This cool dude, June, became my buddy, translator and guide for my entire stay. Awesomely located outside of the city, on a mountain with a beautiful lake on the bottom of the mountain is Temple Jah In Sah.

Meet June:

Find me!

Here is a lil’ snippet of their vegetable garden.

A view from the top of the temple….. sooooooooo serene! ps. the lantern decorations were in anticipation for Buddha’s birthday on May 21st.

As a student to become a monk, June had sketched out this beautiful prayer in temple-form:

All meals were held in this room where an buffet-style table was set up of various vegetarian dishes: rice, picked veggies, beans, tofu, seaweed and vegetable soup were served. I was warned by June that I would have to finish everything on my plate, so be mindful of how much I take because nothing should go to waste; all foods had been gifted to the temple.

Upon meeting me, June’s master monk gifted me with a Buddha bracelet, took my pulse and warned me of knee problems as I would get older. I was impressed with his diagnostic from simply checking out my pulse because I have been having knee issues since my ski injury/ACL surgery in 2001. To help it a bit, June fixed up this concoction using some sort’ve sweet green tea leaves to “burn” me.. in a sense of extracting “cold air” from my knee:

My living quarters in all its simplicity:

Bathroom to the right, bedrooom straight ahead. One awesome thing about Korea is HEATED FLOORS!! Soooooooo wonderful and it makes sooooooooo much sense, since heat rises!!!

Morning wake up time at the sound of chimes and gongs was 4am for morning prayer/108 bows:

Here is a  64 year old blind monk teaching June and another student the correct way to chant:

Breakfast isn’t all too much different but with slight variances. Surprisingly these vegetarian meals filled me up pretty quick, but! left me hungry in 2 hours!

Thanks to June, I got my request to spend time with the elder, blind monk and was invited to his room, where he offered me some tea, gave me a temple name and steered me in a direction to reach my own state of zen. I was so humbled to be in such presence!

Shortly thereafter, June and I hiked up a trail behind the temple to a spot where he and his master monk frequents to meditate. I felt priviledged to be led to such destination of tranquility. Though, I was told, back in the day, this very site used to be an army base; hence, rubber tires still lay. Crazy right??!! I was on real war grounds!

J’s master monk shaved his head and left a bit left ….until J earns his ranks to becoming a full monk.

This was our view while meditating, looking out:

Heading back, June gave me a little history lesson on the temple etc, and pointed out the name that I was given by the elder monk, was the name of the temple: meaning, “love”….

In the late afternoon, as it was time for J and I to catch the bus back to Seoul, I was extremely touched by the elder monk’s gesture of coming down from his room by himself, waiting to bid adieu to me with his umbrella under the drizzling rain. I respectfully went to him, held his hands, thanked him in Korean and bidded him a farewell…. and in his very limited English, he replied, “Bye Bye. Come back to meeeee.”

Later, as soon as we arrived in Seoul city, J’s master monk (who looks after a temple in the city as well) phone J to advise him to head to a restaurant for a BBQ Pork dinner. HOW RAD IS THAT??!!! So there I was! .. Invited to a bbq pork dinner with a really cool monk! (I learned that in Korean Buddhism, monks can in fact eat meat, so long as they are not out there killing for a meal. shrug.) But the meal was SOOOOOOO YUMMY!!

After the meal, we all convened in the temple in the city, where I was eventually given time to chat with the master monk as well. He gifted me with a few items including two pairs of socks and a mirror with a drawing of Buddha on the back with words in Korean, “Who Am I?”  I had some insightful time with him…, where at one point, he touched my head and told me that I have a nice round head that would look good if shaved. (hmmmm recruitment?!?!) Then, he cracked my neck all randomly and had relieved some stiffness that I had had. Ahhh! Felt great! Until next time, master monk, when we meet again spiritually….

And here’s a full real slide, enjoy!

. . don’t burn the day. .